Monday, 9 June 2014

Cyrano of Brixton at the Brockley Jack

THE life of 17th century French dramatist Cyrano de Bergerac has in the past been turned into films, operatic and stage productions but now he has been given a makeover with a difference thanks to a South London playwright.
Kevin Lee has taken the story, updated it and set it in Brixton. As well as re-writing the story to give it a totally contemporary feel he has given it a new name - Cyrano of Brixton - and will open it tonight at the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley.
For the 29-year-old it has been nine months of hard work to bring it to the stage but he says he is really excited about the result and "raring to go".
"It's a brilliant story and has been made famous by people like French actor Gerard Depardieu and Steve Martin in the film Roxanne," he says.
"I wanted to update it though and set it in South London - and because I've lived in the area my whole life it made sense to set it here.
"It's never been told in this way before. The essence of the original story is still there but I've completely re-written it in a way that I'd tell it to a bunch of teenagers.
"Now we have the cast and crew in place we are raring to go!"
Cyrano was a brilliant poet and dramatist who was highly regarded in society. In fictional works about his life though he has been mocked for having a big nose. He is also shown falling in love with the beautiful Roxanne but realising she would never love him, tries to set her up with one of his friends.
"It's a beautiful love story and that's what I wanted to concentrate on in my adaptation," says Kevin.
"However, to bring it up to date I decided that he should be part of a street gang and whereas in the original they go to war with Spain, here there is a reference to rivalry with the gang's counterpart in North London.
"The gang part of it is secondary though because I wanted to bring out the themes of love, beauty and what it is to be really beautiful - not just outwardly but the beauty within.
"The last thing kids want to hear is about knife crime so I hope that message of love comes through.
"I also hope it reaches out to a new audience - I've made it accessible to teenagers - as well as those people who are familiar with the original. It's very exciting."
For Kevin to bring the piece to his local theatre is a dream and not something he ever imagined he would do when he was growing up. Indeed it was only when he went to the theatre for the first time six years ago that he even considered writing as a career.
"I came to theatre quite late," he admits. "I grew up in Sydenham although I now live in Dulwich and I was never into acting or directing when I was at school and when I left I did a variety of jobs.
"However, six years ago I was persuaded to go to the theatre by some friends and I saw Sheridan Smith and James Cordon in a production of Tinderbox at the Bush Theatre in west London. It is such a small intimate venue and the excitement of being there was incredible.
"Everything went wrong during the production but it was amazing and totally blew me away!
"After that I went to see as much as I could and three years ago I started writing plays, one of which was staged at the Soho Theatre which was an unbelievable honour."
Writing courses followed and Kevin says he spent most of his free time writing and re-writing while his friends were out clubbing.
"It has been hard work because every spare moment has been me trying to improve so I had to ditch my social life for a while!" he laughs.
"But I felt like I had something to say and write about and even though it was hard I just had to keep going.
"I want to try and make something of myself though and hopefully be a full time playwright before too long. I'd also love to work with young people to get them more interested in theatre.
"The experience of writing this play has exceeded my expectations - and I've had great support from Kate Bannister and Karl Swinyard at the Jack who really liked it and thought it had a lot of potential which was fantastic."
And as for the future, Kevin is still writing, has two new plays he wants to get staged and is thinking about his next script.
"If it does well at the Jack I'd like to take Cyrano on tour if I can. But most of all keep writing!" he says.
Watch this space.

Cyrano of Brixton is on at the Jack Studio Theatre, Brockley Road until Saturday, June 14. Tickets cost £14. Call the box office on 0333 666 3366 or visit

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